Reluctant Launch: Facing Fear Alone

Cindy Stauffer’s courageous moments essay entry describes her new start, alone in an unfamiliar setting. Read her words on courage and comment for your chance to win an iPod nano.

Cindy Stauffer

Reluctant Launch

I think the scariest thing in the world is to do something you’ve never done before – all alone, without the company of family or friends. In new situations, our primal fear of the unknown manifests itself in the form of clammy hands, butterflies, and racing thoughts. As our mind conjures up “worst case scenarios”, our fear skyrockets. Couple this fear with an absent support system, and you have a situation requiring the utmost boldness.

Such was the case for me in December 1984, as I was driving to Virginia to report to my first duty station as a 2d Lt in the Air Force. Having grown up and attended college in Atlanta, Georgia, I was used to being surrounded by family and friends, a support system built from 22 years of living in the same place. However, as I crossed the state line into Virginia on my way to Langley Air Force Base, I realized I did not know a single person in my new home state.

This thought terrified me. I had already spent the long hours driving up, pondering heretofore unchartered mental meanderings like, “Where will I live?”, “How does one learn a new full-time job, and am I really trained for it?”, “What if I’m not really the military type?”, “Who will I hang out with?”, “Will I be able to learn my way around my new town?”, and, finally, “What if I forget to render the proper military courtesies only sketchily covered during my ROTC training?”.

In a sort of “misery loves company” stream of consciousness, I sought to comfort myself by thinking about some of my ROTC classmates also headed out to their first assignments. However, this idea only intensified my fear when I realized many of them had a spouse or a classmate accompanying them to their new base or, at a minimum, they were headed to do a job like flying for which they were perfectly prepared, whereas I was a math major heading into a computer programming job, back in the days before computers were a part of everyday life.

But, alas, what could I do but face my fears head on and report in to the base the next day? After all, my military orders told me where to be and when – so I didn’t exactly have choice. Remembering a quote I had read in college in On Becoming an Educated Person (Voeks, 1979), “If you intensely fear failure in some activity, wholeheartedly try that activity” (p. 210), I forged ahead and faced my fears by throwing myself into my new Air Force life…and what a blessing that turned out to be! I am happy to report that that first deliberate act of boldness led to a fulfilling 20 year career in the Air Force!

Is Cindy’s leap into the unknown familiar? How much courage does it take to start anew — and solo? Offer your comments below, and read the other entries here.

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Author of the Swift Investigations, Mall Cop, and Readaholics mystery series. Ex-Air Force intelligence officer, now a full-time writer. Spying was easier.

8 thoughts on “Reluctant Launch: Facing Fear Alone”

  1. Wow, your piece made me feel your fear of the unknown while reminding me of a few of my own through the years. Most importantly, your words made me smile with such pride for your success in triumphing over your fears and anxieties because it was so encouraging. Thanks for putting yourself out there!

  2. As I read your essay, I was smiling all the way through while shaking my head. First, it was eerily familiar–conjuring up feelings I had as I headed towards my first assignment. But secondly, and more importantly, because I knew “the rest of the story” as Paul Harvey would say! Yes, there were challenges and unknowns. But you always had a bold, courageousness about you that I respected — then and now. Your story reminded me that for all of us there are things that make us uneasy, and sometimes even fearful. But the key is to press ahead, with heart and mind open to new experiences. And not on wobbly legs that make others think we’re not capable, but by standing firm on our solid foundation and building upon it. That’s how we grow. And that’s how you turned college ROTC into 20 years of highly successful service to our country. Well done–then and now!

  3. As I read your essay, I found myself thinking about so many of our friends who are now “reluctantly launching” their kids to college or to the “real world” now. This is a good reminder to be patient with them and supportive of them as they make these transitions, too. Isn’t it amazing that, even though the family and friends weren’t going to be there in VA with you, they helped shape you into the kind of person who would be successful when propelled into that new environment? Also amazing is that your courage to go into the new environment led you to so many phenomenal adventures and even more new friends who would become your extended family? Great and timely reminder essay that really resonates with me. Thanks for posting!

  4. Thanks for sharing your feelings on following through on the first of many life-altering decisions. I think we’ve all had to make scary leaps in order to pursue our goals and it’s great to be able to look back on them and confirm our own strength and successes, both to face our own new hurdles and life decisions and also to be able to share those experiences with others as you have done. Thanks for posting your essay!

  5. Cindy – Happy Veterans Day!
    I trust that your many subsequent AF assignments went more easily for you – and that your Atlanta friends have finally forgiven you. 🙂
    Thanks so much for your long service to our nation.
    Love & NTW, Bill

  6. Really enjoyed your essay! I remember feeling, earlier in my career, as though every day brought me at least one situation that was outside my comfort zone. Eventually I embraced that, feeling that a daily dose of that kind of uneasiness meant that I was continuing to grow. One interesting thing to note is that with email and texting, the support system that was so far away for your first assignment is no longer very far off. I appreciate that you are always just an email away, going through many of the same things, and offering support and encouragement!

  7. I too experienced the same emotions when I joined the Army in 1983. I used those emotions of fear to empower me to seek God first and I am never alone. I joined another branch, finished my masters degree, faced being a single parent, launched a practice, but most importantly helped others start their practices. We have helped hundreds of people collaboratively. I have learned not to let fear determine your destiny or prevent purpose.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Sabrenia. It never ceases to amaze me how much of human experience is shared. I suspect we are far more similar than dissimilar in our responses to events, and I feel very connected to all who have responded to my blog posts with stories of their own fears and supposed inadequacies. I start every morning with prayer and devotions and know, like you, that I am never alone and never have to rely solely on my own limited abilities and insights.

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